Discerning fans will want a more in-depth, wide-ranging book, but that may not happen until Public Enemy hangs up the...

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DON’T RHYME FOR THE SAKE OF RIDDLIN’

THE AUTHORIZED STORY OF PUBLIC ENEMY

Serviceable but toothless look at the poster children for brainy hip-hop.

Fronted by African-American culture pundit Chuck D and current reality-TV star Flavor Flav, Public Enemy is arguably the most important unit ever produced by the hip-hop nation. (Rolling Stone included them on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.) The group’s singular ability to combine politically conscious lyrics and funky beats, all tied together by Chuck’s clarion voice and Flav’s goofball onstage and in-studio clowning, is why they are one of the few rap groups whose 20-year-old music sounds and feels as if it could have been created today. Yet up until now, aside from Chuck’s two hit-and-miss memoirs, there have been no Public Enemy books—as opposed to at least 15 titles about Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana, to name one of the only bands of that era equally important within its own genre. Was Village Voice arts editor Myrie’s study worth the wait? Sort of. He had full access to Chuck, Flav and the rest of the crew, to the brain trust at Def Jam Records and to virtually everybody else who played a role in the group’s artistic and cultural success; all of them were forthcoming and generous with their stories and observations. Unfortunately, the book is almost completely rooted in fact: Here’s what happened in the studio…here’s what happened on tour…here’s the next album, etc. Myrie offers very little historical context or analysis, which seems a particularly grievous oversight in the first-ever group portrait.

Discerning fans will want a more in-depth, wide-ranging book, but that may not happen until Public Enemy hangs up the microphones. In the interim, this genial survey will have to suffice.

Pub Date: March 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-84767-182-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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